Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
The Complete Piano Sonatas
Played on Period Instruments
Paul Badura-Skoda (fortepiano)
rec. 1991-1996, various locations in Vienna
ARCANA A205 [9 CDs: 545:07]
These recordings of Franz Schubert’s twenty piano sonatas were set down by Paul Badura-Skoda between 1991 and 1996. They were originally released as separate volumes before being gathered together in a box set in 2013. They’ve now been re-released under an attractive new livery. The previous incarnation required the purchaser to download the annotations, but this time a beautifully produced booklet, stretching to 75 pages, in English only, is included. Written by Badura-Skoda himself, there’s an in-depth discussion of each of the sonatas in addition to black and white photographs of the instruments featured.
As with the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Badura-Skoda has recorded the Schubert cycle both on a modern concert grand and on fortepianos. The pianist was a pioneer in the field of period instrument performance and historically informed practice. Around 1950, Vienna became a centre of research and experimentation into historically informed practice of which Badura-Skoda, together with the likes of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and pianist Jörg Demus, were foremost exponents.
Badura-Skoda, a collector and restorer of pianos from the late eighteenth through to the mid-nineteenth centuries, performs on several instruments from his own collection: a Donath Schöfftos c.1810; a Georg Hasska c.1815; Conrad Grafs 432 c.1823 and 1118 c.1825 and a J.M. Schweighofer c.1846. Each has its own distinct personality and colour range. They were instruments that Schubert was familiar with, likely used and composed music for. Several sonatas are assigned to each instrument.
What amazes me is the difference in timbre between the pianos featured. Each has its own individuality and character and I wonder whether the pianist had these qualities in mind when choosing a particular piano for a specific work. To me, the earlier pianos don’t sound as refined as the later one’s; a gruff quality sometimes creeps in. My particular favorite is the 1846 J.M. Schweighofer which the pianist chose for the Sonata No 6 in E minor, D566/506, No 11 in F minor, D625/505, No 14 in C major, D840 and No 18 in C minor, D958. This later instrument seems to yield more volume and dynamic range generally than the earlier models, and is particularly effective in the declamatory chords which open D958. Also it seems more responsive to touch. The earlier model of the Conrad Graf op 432, dated 1823, I thought sounded thin and less resonant by comparison.
The performances are nicely paced and tempi always feel just right. Slow movements are eloquent and expressive and fast movements never lack élan. Badura-Skoda elicits a wealth of colour from the pianos due, no doubt, to his familiarity with the instruments. Rhythm carries you along and phrases are intelligently shaped and articulated. There’s real conviction to the playing.
Badura-Skoda’s love and affection for the instruments comes over in the performances, and there’s no doubt that these early instruments give free rein to his imagination and interpretive abilities. This, in turn, not only renders his performances characterful and engaging, but brings the listener closer to Schubert’s sound world. Despite the five year span of the recordings and the variety of instruments, there’s a consistency in sound quality throughout.
The various Vienna locations used are all conducive to providing an intimate experience. Microphone placement ensures that balance is ideal. Like his modern piano version, which I would also recommend (Sony 88985395492), Badura-Skoda conveys the bountiful lyricism and romantic dreams of these alluring scores. This set is a must-have for period performance lovers of these works.
CD 1 [64:58]
Piano Sonata #1 in E Major, D. 157
Piano Sonata #9 in B Major, Op. posth. 147 (D. 575)
Piano Sonata #2 in C Major, D. 279
CD 2 [58:37]
Piano Sonata #5 in A Flat Major, D. 557
Piano Sonata #10 in C Major, D. 613/612
Piano Sonata #7 in E Flat Major, Op. posth. 122 (D. 568)
CD 3 [65:38]
Piano Sonata #6 in E minor, D. 566
Piano Sonata #14 "Reliquie" in C Major, D. 840
CD 4 [57:27]
Piano Sonata #3 in E Major, D. 459
Piano Sonata #15 in A minor, Op. 42 (D. 845)
CD 5 [60:06]
Piano Sonata #8 in F Sharp minor D. 571
Piano Sonata #16 in D Major, Op. 53 (D. 850)
CD 6 [62:35]
Piano Sonata #4 in A minor, Op. posth. 164 (D. 537)
Piano Sonata #17 in G Major, Op. 78 D. 894
CD 7 [55:33]
Piano Sonata #11 in F minor D. 625
Piano Sonata #18 in C minor D. 958
CD 8 [60:16]
Piano Sonata #13 in A minor, Op. posth. 143 (D. 784)
Piano Sonata #19 in A Major, D. 959
CD 9 [59:57]
Piano Sonata #12 in A Major, Op. posth. 120 (D. 664)
Piano Sonata #20 in B Flat Major, D. 960